- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — A top U.S. commander said yesterday two bombings carried out by women wrapped in bombs that killed nearly 100 people in Baghdad underscored that al Qaeda in Iraq remains a serious threat, but he vowed the military would “not give back any terrain” to the terror network.

Iraqis in Baghdad demanded more protection for markets, saying one of the bombers wasn’t searched because she was known as a local beggar and the male guards were reluctant to search women because of Islamic sensitivities.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said yesterday that pictures showed the bombers had Down syndrome and likely did not know they were being used in Friday’s attacks.

Ali Nassir, a 30-year-old day laborer whose hobby is raising birds, said people with disabilities often beg for food and money at the weekly al-Ghazl pet bazaar on Fridays.

“I saw the suicide bomber and she was begging,” Mr. Nassir said, adding that the woman was known to the vendors. “The security guards did not search her because she is a woman and because it is not unusual to have beggars, mainly women and children, moving around in the market.”

Iraqi officials raised the death toll of Friday’s attacks to at least 99 — 62 persons in the first blast at the central al-Ghazl bazaar and 37 others about 20 minutes later at the New Baghdad area pigeon market in southeastern Baghdad.

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of the Multi-National Division-Baghdad, said the women appeared to be unwitting attackers.

“It appears the suicide bombers were not willing martyrs; they were used by al Qaeda for these horrific attacks,” he said. “These two women were likely used because they didn’t understand what was happening and they were less likely to be searched.”

He also reiterated military warnings that al Qaeda remains a serious threat despite major inroads against the network since the U.S. began sending some 30,000 extra troops to the capital and surrounding areas in the spring.

“These two suicide-vest attacks represent the worst of human nature,” Gen. Hammond told reporters. He said American forces would continue their targeted operations that have succeeded in decreasing attacks.

“We will not give back any terrain here in Baghdad,” he said.

Iraqi officials said they had pictures of the two women’s heads that were found at the scene that proved they had Down syndrome, and they said the explosives had been detonated by remote-control.

“This is very credible information,” said Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, the chief Iraqi military commander in Baghdad, adding the photos would not be released to the public because of humanitarian concerns.

Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a military spokesman for the Baghdad area, said: “They were both females and they both looked like they had Down syndrome.” Medical experts with his division had examined the photos and agreed the women probably suffered from the genetic disorder, he said.

A cell phone image of one of the heads viewed by the Associated Press was inconclusive.

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